New College Choir, Oxford / Robert Quinney

Like as the Hart

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The "Music for the Templar's Garden" subtitle used in the graphics for this release is puzzling, and you have to read into the booklet notes to figure out what it means: the album accompanies a novel by that title by Catherine Clover. Nevertheless, as its success on British charts shows, the album is highly listenable on its own terms, with no reference to the book beyond what appears in the notes. The title Like as the Hart refers to Psalm 42, as translated in the Book of Common Prayer. There are other ways of translating the Latin psalm, and they appear here too, along with Latin settings. The novelty here is that few other groups have recorded exclusively settings of a single text, which constantly appears in new musical guises from the early Renaissance (there is a motet by Ockeghem) to the present day. The effect is something like that of the composers of the Renaissance (and beyond) who used the chanson L'homme armé as the basis for mass settings: the composers here may not all have been in dialogue with each other, but some of them certainly were, and monotony never threatens. Sample the rather unusual Latin setting by Dietrich Buxtehude, which the young Handel might easily have encountered. Robert Quinney deploys the Choir of New College Oxford intelligently, adding more variety, and the sound, from the New College Chapel, is clean. The end result: an interesting, offbeat choice for lovers of the English choral tradition.

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